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Sensational salmon.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

WINCHESTER BAY - The steady stream of boats returning to Salmon Harbor on Sunday morning could mean only one of two things:

Either the ocean was so rough that anglers were coming in early, or the fishermen on those boats already had their limits of two salmon apiece and were finished for the day.

One glance at the crowded fish-cleaning stations provided the answer - the 2003 coho salmon season on the central Oregon Coast was, indeed, off to a fast start.

"Practically everybody's limited this morning - some of them in only an hour and a half or two hours," said Sandy Kennedy, one of more than two dozen fish-checkers stationed along the coast by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Kennedy was one of two creel checkers scrambling to interview anglers returning to the harbor at Winchester Bay.

Among those heading home early for the second straight morning Sunday were fishing buddies Gary Smith of Eugene and Jerry Moulton of Florence.

"Yesterday, we were out there at 7:15, had the first fish at 7:25 and were back in Florence by 10:30," Smith said. Sunday's limit took a little longer to catch, but they were still back at the boat ramp by 11 a.m.

Part of the reason so many people limited out is "the fish are in close," said Patrick Roelle of Fishpatrick's Guide Service, which offers salmon charters out of Winchester Bay.

"The area between the `whistler' (buoy) and the `can' (a bell buoy) and south toward The Twins is just full of bait and fish," Roelle said. "Most of them were not very deep. ... I didn't even have to use a downrigger to catch chinook."

The waters just outside Winchester Bay produced more salmon than any other port. But anglers all along the coast were smiling on opening weekend of the "selective coho season" - so-called because anglers must be selective in their harvest, keeping only hatchery-reared coho with a clipped adipose fin.

Catch rates were "very good for this early" in the summer, said Eric Schindler, who oversees the ODFW's Ocean Salmon Management Project. Based on data collected by his creel checkers, Schindler estimates that 5,200 anglers took home an average of 1.22 salmon each.

Another reason for the anglers' smiles is that there is much more of the same to look forward to his summer. The season is scheduled to run through Aug. 24. That means 64 days of fishing will be allowed - compared to the maximum of 29 days scheduled in 2002.

The actual length of the coho season, however, is normally dictated by the harvest quota established by federal regulators. This year, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council is allowing 88,000 fin-clipped coho to be taken.

That's the largest harvest since 160,000 coho were taken in 1992. Recently, the quota has ranged from as low as 15,000 (in 1999) to as high as 55,000 (in 2001). Last year's allotment was 22,500.

Still more salmon opportunity is ahead. The fin-clipped coho season north of Cape Falcon begins Sunday and will run through Sept. 30, or until the quota of 112,000 for that ocean management zone is reached. The zone extends as far north as Leadbetter Point, Wash.

The increased quotas this year stem from the fact biologists believe wild salmon stocks have rebounded enough that it's safe to allow a higher mortality from sport fishing. (Even though unclipped wild fish are released, a certain percentage of them die from injuries and stress associated with being hooked.)

Meanwhile, the weekend's ODFW creel checks confirm that anglers got a running start at filling the 2003 quota south of Cape Falcon. The opening weekend harvest was 4,662 coho, or 5.3 percent of the quota.

Also taken were 1,669 chinook - a larger species of salmon not covered by a quota (or by the fin-clipped-only rule) in the management zone between Cape Falcon, near Manzanita, and Humbug Mountain, near Port Orford.

Anglers actually saw considerably more action than those numbers indicate.

"We probably released about a dozen fish" en route to a limit of six, said Scott Roland of Pleasant Hill who, along with two friends, limited out both Saturday and Sunday.

"We hooked about 30 or 40 at least," Roland said, but many of those got off.

Roelle said clients on his charters the first few days of the season were releasing about as many fish as they kept.

That squares with the ODFW creel survey, which indicates 5,559 coho and 315 chinook were set free. While most of the released fish were coho with intact adipose fins, that category also includes fish below the minimum size or hatchery coho released by anglers targeting chinook.

Schindler said he was surprised that the percentage of "keepers" was less than half.

"The unclipped rate seems to be pretty high compared to what the preseason expectations were," he said. "The forecast was that 70 percent would be marked fish and, so far at least, we're looking at closer to 50-50."

Another noteworthy aspect of last week's creel data was the relatively high percentage of chinook salmon in the harvest.

"About a quarter of the salmon taken were chinook, which is pretty high," Schindler said.

Given the choice, most anglers would probably choose a chinook over a coho any day, if for no other reason than chinook tend to be larger.

Coho observed at the fish cleaning stations Sunday tended to be in the 4- to 8-pound range.

Many of the chinook, on the other hand, are over 20 pounds and putting on more weight every day.

For example, a chinook caught by Wendy Mebius of Dillingham, Alaska, tipped the cleaning station scales at 28 pounds.

Mebius said the salmon fishing in Oregon waters compared favorably with that available back home in Alaska.

"You don't catch as many down here, but a lot of them are larger," she said.

Regulations for the coho fishery remain the same as last year: Anglers are restricted to the use of two single-point barbless hooks. Coho must be at least 16 inches in length and have a healed adipose fin clip. Chinook must be at least 20 inches long, but need not have a clipped fin.

A rule that limited anglers to harvesting a maximum of six salmon within any seven-day period was taken off the books last year. That rule tended to string out the harvest because it forced the most successful anglers to sit out several days a week.

Opening weekend salmon effort and catch by port

Port Trips Coho Chinook Ave.

Garibaldi 438 448 101 1.26

Pacific City 346 387 134 1.51

Depoe Bay 415 441 123 1.36

Newport 1,376 1,285 366 1.20

Winchester Bay 1,593 1,581 662 1.41

Charleston 1,004 499 261 0.76

Bandon 34 21 21 1.26

TOTALS 5,204 4,662 1,669 1.22

- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife


What: Selective sport fishery for coho salmon, also known as silvers. Only hatchery-reared coho with a healed adipose fin clip may be retained.

When: Seven days a week through Aug. 24 or when the quota of 88,000 adipose fin-clipped coho is landed, whichever occurs first. After the coho season ends, the ocean will remain open for all other species of salmon.

Where: Pacific Ocean between Cape Falcon, near Manzanita, and Humbug Mountain, near Port Orford.

Bag limit: Two salmon per day. Minimum length is 16 inches for coho, 20 inches for chinook.

Tackle restrictions: No more than two single-point, single-shank, barbless hooks may be used.

Required: A valid Oregon angling license and a salmon-steelhead harvest card (one-day licenses include salmon-harvesting privileges).

- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife


Scott Roland of Pleasant Hill watches as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Sandy Kennedy checks the salmon he caught at Winchester Bay. Creel checkers like Kennedy look for tiny metal tags inserted in some salmon at the hatchery and help track the harvest. Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard The fish-cleaning stations at Winchester Bay were busy spots on opening weekend of the coho salmon season. Jerry Moulton of Florence shows off a limit of coho salmon Sunday morning at Winchester Bay.
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Title Annotation:Good catches, larger quota have salmon anglers smiling; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 26, 2003
Previous Article:Higgins' hitting leads Emerald Valley.
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